Danilo Suarez’s courage
House Minority leader Danilo Suarez recently announced his withdrawal of support for the Reproductive Health bill, along with several members of the chamber’s minority. Suarez said the six other members who joined his turnabout had previously supported House Bill 4244 only because of loyalty to the then minority leader, Edcel Lagman, its author and chief advocate. Suarez and Lagman had been engaged in a fight for the minority leadership, one that ended with Lagman’s resignation last January.
Perhaps his six colleagues will not appreciate Suarez’s defense of their vacillating support. For all intents and purposes, he has just announced to the national media that Siquijor Rep. Orlando Fua, Una Ang Pamilya Party-list Rep. Reena Concepcion Obillo, Lanao del Sur Rep. Mohammed Hussein Pangandaman, AA Kasosyo Party-list Rep. Nasser Pangandaman, Camarines Norte Rep. Elmer Panotes, and Anad Party-list Rep. Pastor Alcover are legislative lambs, elected without the capacity to make independent decisions over what is perhaps the Philippines’ most divisive pieces of legislation.
That lawmakers occasionally make decisions based on party loyalty is a necessary truth, but this is the Reproductive Health bill, whose decade-long campaign has drawn principled lines from the Congress floor all the way to the national imagination. The argument against the bill, after all, is the end of the moral culture and the alleged genocide of millions of innocents, and if these six now stand on the side of the Church, they should be pilloried for having condoned attempted murder. Or perhaps they had no moral principles at all, had no opinion to sacrifice, and simply considered the bill a legitimate stake in the art of political horse trading, irrelevant of debates and arguments. If Suarez is to believed, these are men and women who sacrificed principle for the political game, following Lagman’s cue only so far as Lagman was in power, shifting sides the moment he was not. Suarez has essentially said all six would have kept their support behind the RH bill if Lagman had remained minority leader.
Suarez is careful to separate himself. In as much as he claims his colleagues shifted sides for the sake of political loyalty, Danilo Suarez did not decide to back off because of politics, according to Danilo Suarez. In February 2011, Suarez, himself a proponent and coauthor of HB 4244, informed the public that the rate of unprogrammed pregnancies was at an alarming 87 percent, and that the bill was necessary by providing services to minimize the growth rate.
Suarez now claims to have had a change of heart, one that he insists is not prompted by the return of his old ally, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, into the House minority bloc. Arroyo, out on bail, appeared for a 20-minute comeback accompanied by Suarez himself. Arroyo’s opposition to the bill brought in the Catholic Church as one of her strongest allies at a time when the country was rife with protest over corruption and human rights violations. Suarez says the former President intends to personally cast her vote against the bill, as she was a devout Catholic who took the issue “close to her heart.”
In defending his withdrawal from the bill he set his name to, Suarez says his sudden turnaround is due to his recent awareness that richer countries have fewer children.
“But in the course of my travels in developed nations, I was concerned. When you go around, you don’t see children. Bihira(Rarely),” he said.
It must have been a stunning moment for Suarez, who was certainly not lacking in international travel when he affixed his coauthorship in 2011, as he is the same controversial congressman who claimed to have picked up then President Arroyo’s $15,000 dinner tab—with $4,000 in federal taxes—at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse in Washington in July 2009. He also admitted to having been in the habit of picking up the tab for Arroyo dinners at other state visits. Perhaps Washington’s children do not wander into 5-star restaurants crowded with visiting dignitaries, but it is certainly odd for Suarez to make this realization now, a week before the vote, on the same week Arroyo comes visiting, two weeks after the Catholic Church promises to exact electoral vengeance on any politician who votes in favor of the RH bill. It is odder still, granted the possibility of a slowing birth rate is an old argument against the RH bill, one that Mr. Suarez could have ordered any of his aides to verify via Google—as Roilo Golez has done with great pride, albeit via Wikipedia.
“My point is: Which is easier to handle? An overpopulation thriving in hunger, which can be addressed with good governance? Or a negative growth rate and convince your people to bear children?” he asked.
And yet unwanted pregnancies are still rising, the population is still growing, and still Suarez claims what was “alarming” then can be mitigated by free vasectomies and ligations to be provided by the Philippine government. It is not clear if the good gentleman from Quezon has consulted the Catholic Church on his foolproof solution, granting the same Church opposes any artificial means at halting pregnancy. It is also, judging him by his own standards, a particularly ridiculous means of solving his dilemma of a smaller populace.
He fears the provision of the RH bill will encourage couples to no longer have children. The bill forces no one to use contraception. The rich can buy a fruit basket of Frenzies if they choose, only the poorest without funds will take advantage of the RH bill. Granted the intent, the same couple who could have decided to use a condom under the RH bill will only have the option of free ligations and vasectomies under Suarez’s proposal. The RH bill offers more nuanced options, and certainly less permanent ones even to the most desperate. Perhaps it has not occurred to Danilo Suarez that it is more difficult to convince his people to bear children if their tubes are tied and their penises are shooting blanks.
Suarez talks about remittances from OFWs. He talks of the population as one of the nation’s greatest resources. He talks about solving poverty, and waxes poetic on the value of a country with people “thriving in hunger.” It would have been easier for the congressman from Quezon to keep his silence and forego excuses, instead of wasting time insulting the intelligence of the public. He claims he was always a reluctant supporter of the RH bill. Perhaps it is best for him to announce all his other hesitations before he runs again for office, as hesitant men with legislative seats are dangerous men, especially the sort who delight in walking with power.
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